Monday, April 13, 2009

Laos 4 : A town called Phonsavanh

Monks filing pass in their vermilion robes to collect alms for the day and cute little kids clutching their books and lunch tiffins scampering to school makes up the morning scene.

It’s seven in the morning and the air was still crisp with a slight chill. The mists was clearing and the sun was making its way up, saturating the sky with an orange hue, lending an ethereal feel to a town that is otherwise stark and dusty.

There is nothing elegant, no saving beauty to the town, just plain ugly brick buildings and wooden shacks sandwiched in between them. The buildings are plastered with sign –boards, advertisements for guesthouses and local tours. Every time a vehicle passed by, a cloud of choking dust swirls up.

Phonsavanh was built in the 1970s to replace the old capital of Xieng Khouang province which was destroyed during the civil war. It has the feel of a Western frontier town, except the setting is in South East Asia and fast forward the time period to 1970s. Replace the clapboard buildings with brick buildings, horse carts with tuk tuks and prospecting for gold with luring tourists’ dollars and there you have it, an Asian frontier town.

Phonsavanh is way out east from the popular tourist trail of Vientiane – Vang Vieng – Luang Prabang. The main reason why tourists would hit this town is because it is a gateway to the Plain of Jars.(more on that later) To get to the Plain of Jars sites, you will have to book with a local tour agent. The tuks tuks are not allowed to bring tourists to the Jar sites.

If you haven’t arranged for a tour out of town for the day, you’ll probably find yourself twiddling thumbs. There isn’t a whole lot to do in the town itself. So, you should not miss a trip to the local market. They sell every kind of food from dry groceries and cooked food to fresh vegetables and fruits. Also on sale are things you’d probably rather not view as food – like rats, bats and other creatures best left unknown.

There are lots of guesthouses located on the main road in town. If you hit the town early enough, you could easily snag a room. I stayed at Kong Keo Guesthouse, which is located on what was previously an airstrip. The establishment is owned by Kong, a cocky young guy and a very shrewd business man. Kong speaks fluent English, liberally punctuated with cuss words and has his mainly Caucasian audience enthralled by his cock and bull stories. He successfully captured media attention by his flamboyant persona. The place comes highly recommended on the Travelfish site. Some write-ups went as far as to describe him as hotelier extraordinaire. Clever self branding or genuine, I let you be judge of it.


  • Do note that the prices on the Travelfish site is outdated. Best call the guesthouses directly to get latest price.